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Hitting is hard. Really hard. In the game of baseball, pitching has taken a decisive lead when it comes to a competitive edge.
Player development, tunneling, maximizing spin axis/rate, and increased throwing velocity have made hitting even more difficult. In softball, pitchers may not have gained the same edges, but it’s only a matter of time before softball coaches use the same approach to gain a competitive edge. And that is happening fast.
Aside from the player development side, the world of hitting has taken several strides to improve preparation and performance. Training methods outside the lines can and do have a tremendously positive effect on performance. These include maximizing mechanics, strength training, using technology like bat sensors, Hittrax, Rapsodo cameras, constraints, randomized over blocked practice, visuomotor training, neurological training, and more.
Once an athlete steps on the field, the work is done and it’s time to perform. No amount of linguistic internal cueing is going to make a player physically better during a game. The best bet to optimize performance at this time is to master the mental aspects of the game. One of the most beneficial ways to do this is to have a Pre At Bat Routine (On-deck routine). This can include using visualization, positive self-talk, physical movements, the use of implements, and locking in your visual skills.
Our focus in this video is to develop a pre-at-bat routine focused on your vision/tracking the ball and your timing mechanism. Our recommendation is to use your time in the dugout to visually track every pitch the pitcher makes from his first warm-up pitch until your first at-bat, as well as the pitches in between. Here is a checklist of the steps you should take when preparing your timing skills while on-deck.
Soft or rough focus is defined by the area you can see in your direct vision (not your periphery). This will be different for all players. We suggest focusing on the pitcher's body in general and then hone in on a small aspect. For example, in baseball, your soft focus may be on the pitchers head or cap. In softball, we may use the torso, pelvis, or belt.
Define your soft focus as soon as the pitcher steps on the pitcher’s mound.
After deciding what area of the body will be your soft-focus, locate the pitcher's release point. This is your fine focal point. At a very specific time in the pitchers delivery, you must switch your soft focus to fine focus so you are ready to track the pitch out of the pitcher's hand immediately.
Use the first couple of warm-up pitches to define your soft focus and lock down the pitcher's release point.
This is a two-step process. After determining release point, use the remainder of the warm-up pitches to visualize your timing mechanism. Mentally stride, load and problem solve when you need to pull the trigger on the pitchers fastest pitch. This process can continue for several pitches until you feel comfortable.
After you feel comfortable, turn your mental reps into dry loading. Dry loading is simply performing your stride/load with no bat in your hands. The goal here is to be more than prepared to take practice swings while you are on deck.
At this time you should have had ample opportunity to define soft focus, pinpoint pitch release, and visualize/perform dry loading. You should have a precise idea on when you need to stride, load, and get your front foot down on the pitcher's fastball.
From here, you should be using every pitch to take game-like practice swings to hone in your timing so you ready to step in the box and rake.
This is the MOST IMPORTANT step! As a hitter, you must be constantly problem-solving and adjusting to the different pitchers you see.
After your first at-bat, if a new pitcher enters the game restart at step 1. If the same pitcher remains, continue to take mental reps throughout the game. Watching pitch release on every single pitch, while visualizing/dry loading is going to increase your chances of success throughout the game. Also, use this time to reflect on your previous at-bat(s) and figure out if you need to make timing or approach adjustments.
Mental preparation is like any other skill, the more you practice, the better you will become. The great thing about improving mental skills is it is sadly an area most athletes spend little to no time on. Incorporate these strategies to give yourself a competitive edge.